Academic journal article French Forum

In Mallarme's Harness? Andre Du Bouchet and Stephane Mallarme

Academic journal article French Forum

In Mallarme's Harness? Andre Du Bouchet and Stephane Mallarme

Article excerpt

Christian Prigent, arguing for "une poetique qui se voudrait reduite, comme on dit, a sa plus simple expression," asserts that "'simple,' ca n'a rien a voir avec [...] un depouillement puritain blanchi sous le harnais post-mallarmeen (l'heritage d'Andre Du Bouchet--une autre allure, evidemment, deja!)." (1) At first glance, it seems difficult to object to such a characterization of Andre du Bouchet. Du Bouchet's fixation on the page as a meditative object and as a surface for words, his obsession with language as both container and content, his romance with ellipsis, with a syntax stretched out over a poem's entire length and punched full of holes--all these features resonate with a certain Mallarme. In fact, du Bouchet seems closest to the Mallarme whose "acte toujours s'applique a du papier," (2) to the Mallarme who bases whatever theoretical or "metaphysical" assertions on a material practice as such susceptible to the "envol tacite d'abstraction" (3) that characterizes his texts on writing and on the book. That the relation between the poets knots at this level explains to a large degree the difficulty in pinning down how du Bouchet's work--his poetry, his use of the page, his understanding of language--specifically engages with or skirts Mallarme beyond the unavoidable fact that to be a poet in France is to already write "sous le harnais post-mallarmeen." (4) True, both poets understand writing as existing materially "au hasard, toujours, d'un morceau de papier a portee de la main," (5) the book as the material strata of ink and paper folded over and into itself, of the word as a splay of letters against the white of the page, and that page providing a space--"paroi de grotte" or "jour," "espacement de la lecture"--in which we apprehend as much as read the words whose relation to their sense, become as sensual as intellectual, seems displaced or delayed. Yet the relation between the poets functions more disjunctively than conjointly, as if each similarity reestablished a distance and a difference that as such reaffirmed the relation. (6)

Clearly, du Bouchet's texts operate in a poetic and "material" space influenced by Mallarme--by "Un coup de des," certainly, but also by Mallarme's prose reflections on language, on writing and on poetry. Yet this space is already profoundly different, as if adjacent, making it difficult to clearly distinguish difference from similarity. To summarize a bit schematically, the poets' works most clearly seem to abut and to differ in terms of what I might too quickly call "spatial meaning," implying that du Bouchet's work configures meaning other than discursively. This leaves open the question of how this type of meaning does or does not echo what Mallarme in "La Musique et les Lettres" calls the "totale arabesque" and "l'omnipresente Ligne espacee de tout point a tout autre pour instituer l'Idee." (7) The difference and the similarity take place on and about the page, in notions of spatial disposition enacted in how they place their words or in how they "spatialize" their syntax (not to mention the poetic sequence in du Bouchet or the implications of such in Mallarme's "volume"). We cannot, then, really raise the question of a meaning made spatial without simultaneously raising the question of the page, of the book, of the white paper in and against which the words, regardless of their configuration, are visible.

This visibility constitutes the point where the poets touch as well as distinguishes, in the end, their respective difficulty. In fact, each thinks poetry and language in the same general direction, although they arrive in very different "spaces." They both seat language--and, to a degree, writing--deep in the voice. Du Bouchet sees there the way to avoid a "vouloir d'eternite," (8) to circumvent discursive meaning, to recognize "[d]ans cette deperdition de la parole [...], sans que jamais elle s'y extenue, l'aboutissement qui n'a de cesse, et, ecrite ou non--elle aurait pu ne pas avoir ete ecrite--, son ressort intarissable. …

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